How to Play Texas Hold’em
The objective of Texas Hold’em is to make the best five-card hand you can, using any combination from the two cards that you are dealt and five community cards on the board (so up to seven cards in total). You can use one, both, or none of your cards to make your best hand.
All players in the game are dealt two cards face down, known as hole cards. These cards are under the direct control of each player and remain only known to the that player during play. The five cards known as community cards are dealt out onto the centre of the table and shown face-up. Each player uses these five cards along with their two hole cards to build a five-card poker hand.
Betting, checking, or folding actions are made by individual players based on the strength of the cards they hold combined with the communal cards revealed during play. After the betting rounds are over, the player with the strongest hand, or the last player left after all others have folded, wins the hand.
Before the first cards are dealt, two bets must be posted by two players. These bets are known as blinds, specifically the big blind and the small blind. The value of the blinds is predetermined, with the small blind being half the value of the big blind. These are the first bets to go into the pot, and if no betting takes place, this is the minimum amount of chips to be won in a hand. The small blind position is always the seat to the left of the dealer, and the big blind is the seat to the left of the small blind.
On the first round of betting, every player (starting with the seat to the left of the big blind) makes their choice of play and acts. Usually determined by the cards they’re holding, each player in turn must decide if they wish to call (equal) the big blind amount, raise the bet by putting in more money, or fold their hand without betting.
The dealer position, designated by the dealer button, is considered the prime position. The dealer is the last to act after previous players have either called, raised or folded, and the position rotates clockwise with each new hand dealt.
If no player raises the big blind, then the player in the big blind position may raise the current bet themselves, or check to proceed to the flop and the next round of betting. A player who has raised and is then re-raised by another may re-raise once more. The round of betting stops when all players have either folded or equalled the last action.
Players may bet or raise any amount over the minimum amount up to all the chips the player has – which is referred to as an “all-in” bet. If someone re-raises, the value of the re-raise must be equal to the value of the last raise plus the value of the big blind. If a raise or re-raise is “all-in” and does not equal the size of the previous raise, the initial raiser cannot re-raise again.
The dealer burns the top card. This means they put it to one side and it is not used in play. Then three cards are dealt face down in the centre of the poker table. The cards are then turned face up simultaneously; this series of 3 cards is called the flop. These are the first of five community cards that all players can use, along with their pocket cards.
The first player to act after the flop has been dealt is the first player still in to the left of the dealer. They are said to be under the gun. They must make the same decision as they did pre-flop, although they can now also choose to check (neither bet nor fold) where they are still in the game but they simply pass the option to the next player. The betting round only ends when all players have either folded, checked, or called the last bet or raise. Next comes the turn.
The dealer burns another card and then deals a fourth community card – the turn – face up. There is another round of betting, exactly as it happened on the flop, with the first player nearest to the left of the dealer being the first to act. A round of betting occurs until either one player wins the pot or any action has been played out to proceed to the next round, the river.
Once again, the top card is discarded (burnt) and the next card is then dealt to complete the fifth and final of the community cards. This card is called the river, and is the final round of betting. If all but one player folds, then that last player remaining wins the pot. If there is a round of betting, and subsequent calling of the bet or raise take place then we have a showdown. There is also the possibility of the hand being checked down to the showdown.
A showdown occurs when all action has concluded after the river has been dealt. This could comprise of anything from two players to the entire table. The last player to bet then shows his cards first. At any point after this, other players in the showdown may muck their hand, conceding the pot. Mucking a hand is much the same as folding – admitting your hand is not as good as the shown hand – without having to show their cards. The winning player wins all the chips in the pot, other than when the following happens:
If any other player(s) has the same ranked hand (e.g. all have straights), the pot is split between the winning players (chopping the pot).
If the winning player went all-in with less chips than any additional raises or bets. Then the side pot comes into play, and this goes to the player with the next best hand.
This is the basics of Texas Hold’em but as a wise man once said, “Poker takes five minutes to learn but a lifetime to master”.